FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- A white cross memorial juts from the rugged terrain as a group of bow hunters start their trek into the heart of a 7-by-4-mile island surrounded by some of the Caribbean's roughest waters.
"It's a reality check that this island has taken people's lives," recalled Army Capt. Stacy Beasley, the chaplain for the Fort Leonard Wood-based 5th Engineer Battalion, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.
Beasley was speaking about Mona Island, Puerto Rico, an area billed as one of the most hostile environments known to man. It's an island that, except for seasonal rangers, remains uninhabited by humans. What the island does offer is scorching heat, venomous centipedes, poisonous plants, sinkholes, razor sharp coral and a disorienting cactus maze.
For Beasley, a native of Carthage, Missouri, this island became his temporary home late last year. It also became the site of the avid outdoorsman's television debut.
Three other bow hunters joined Beasley on Mona Island as their efforts to cull an invasive colony of boars infected by the highly contagious and deadly Brucellosis microbe were documented for an "Animal Planet" television show.
By hunting the feral hogs, the team hoped to reduce the spread of disease on the island and prevent it from being carried to the mainland by illegal migrants. Mona Island is also home to endangered animals, including an endemic iguana subspecies, and Beasley said their hunt aimed to reduce the disturbance of the ecosystem.
'Animal Planet' Docudrama
The docudrama, dubbed "Monster Island," aired May 21 as part of "Animal Planet's" Monster Week offerings.
Being one of the few Americans to have hunted on Mona Island wasn't something that Beasley had penned out on his life's roadmap, but an email from Bright Road Productions quickly put the island within his sights.
The company was looking to pitch a show idea to "Animal Planet" revolving around hunting on the Puerto Rican island. Beasley's presence on social media bow hunting groups drew the attention of the company's employees, so they contacted him via email, saying he fit what they were looking for.
"I thought it was a joke," Beasley said during a recent interview.
At auditions a week later, he soon learned that it was far from a joke.
A veteran of two tours in Iraq, three grueling National Training Center rotations in Fort Irwin, California, military assignments that stretched from coast to coast in the U.S., and hunting trips to a variety of challenging locations, Beasley's experiences helped to prepare him for his most challenging hunt to date.
"If Osama bin Laden had been hiding on Mona Island, we may have never found him," Beasley quipped. "It was worse than any NTC rotation I've ever been on."
As Beasley and his crew settled in for the hunt, left alone with only what could be carried on an island with no source of fresh water, Beasley remembered his thought.
"We're a bunch of castaways," he said.
At one point during the show, Beasley, fresh from shooting a boar, scrambled to locate both his arrow and the injured hog in the dwindling daylight, while being careful to avoid sinkholes hidden underneath palm fronds, falling coconuts and a plant whose leaves can cause painful blisters and even blindness.
Lack of sleep, walking over 60 miles of rough terrain during filming and the mental challenges weighed heavily on Beasley, but he credits his military training for being able to maintain a positive attitude and survive the physical demands.
"I never dropped out of the hunt," Beasley said, who shed 10 pounds during his stay on the island.
Beasley compared the production and film crew to that of a well-tuned and precise military team and admitted he was amazed at how much work went into the show.
"I have a newfound respect for actors and actresses," Beasley said.
Tim "Spike" Davis, a bearded primitive bow hunter from Chicago who also starred in the show, said the experience and camaraderie was the highlight of the adventure and he met friends that he hopes to hunt with for the rest of his life.
"Working with Captain Beasley was an honor and a blessing," Davis wrote in an email. "We both share the same faith, and it is good to know that when you're on a dangerous island away from home. Even though I have never served in the military, my brother and father did, and I knew having Stacy on the team was an asset."
As the group faced an imminent storm and dwindling supplies, they were forced to finally pack up, having shot three boars in total.
"One more day, one more day, one more day," the determined Beasley pleaded, but reality set in and the group knew they had done what they could to help the island.
This month, Beasley is slated to depart the Army after more than 10 years of service. Although the Missouri native mentioned he's looking for a new line of work, Beasley said he would enjoy the chance to be involved in another docudrama in the future.
Whatever path he takes, it's inevitable that Beasley will stay in camouflage at least part time, just a different shade.
"I've been on two tours of duty in Iraq and I've seen a lot of bad stuff," Beasley said on camera. "When I got back from Iraq, it was very difficult and the one thing that brought me back to reality was hunting."